This Friday, East County residents, like millions of others across this country, will pause to honor those who have served - past and present - in their nation's armed services.

It's a time to celebrate the men and women who served in war and peacetime, in combat or support services. Locally, we strongly encourage the public to attend the Gresham Veterans Day Parade, which is back for the first time in years, possibly decades, starting at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 11. The parade starts at East Hill Church, 701 N. Main Ave., and winds through downtown Gresham.

Veterans Day is an important holiday, but this year, as our nation prepares for a new generation of soldiers to return from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's a sobering one.

For while our returning men and women don't face the hostile homecoming that Vietnam vets had to endure, they face their own serious hardships.

Trouble by the numbers

The U.S. Labor Department last month reported the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans stands at 12.1 percent, significantly higher than the figure for civilians.

More troubling, the Veterans Department estimates that veterans, who make up 13 percent of the population, represent one-third of the adults who are homeless. On any given night, the VA figures, roughly 131,000 veterans are homeless, including 1,500 veterans from the current wars.

And while the numbers are less precise, the VA has said an estimated 20 percent of all suicide victims in the United States are veterans, and a study by calculated that in 2009, nearly 2,000 veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars attempted to take their own lives.

There are similar disparities for substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness. At some point the numbers are numbing.

The sobering truth is this: The people who risked their lives for a safe and secure America are returning home to a less-than-certain future.

Veterans groups have been talking about this for years, and finally, it seems, they have someone at the top who is listening.

Someone cares

Last year Gen. Eric Shinseki, President Obama's secretary of Veterans Affairs, vowed to lead a national drive to end veteran homelessness in the next five years.

He also ponied up $3.2 billion to bolster programs to provide housing, education, jobs and health care to help troubled veterans before they hit the streets and aid the transition of 40,000 veterans released each year from prisons.

Meanwhile, Obama's proposed tax breaks for companies that hire unemployed or disabled veterans is expected to clear the U.S. Senate this week.

Closer to home, we are grateful for the stand down events - such as the one held Oct. 15 in Troutdale - where veterans had the opportunity to connect with counselors; tap into area resources to help veterans; receive health screenings; and register with the Veterans Administration Hospital.

The ceremonies and parades held on Veterans Day are important, and we should gather Friday to pay tribute to these former soldiers.

But once the crowds have disappeared and the holiday observance comes to an end, veterans will still struggle to find work and to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.

So let's gather Friday to pay tribute to these former soldiers, but let's also commit to meaningful, year-round support of these true American heroes.

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